The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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What happens in The Call of the Wild?

In The Call of the Wild, Buck becomes the best sled dog in Alaska during the Gold Rush. When Buck can't run anymore, Thornton saves him from being beaten to death. After Thornton is killed by natives, Buck answers the call of the wild and joins the wolves.

  • Originally from California, Buck is surreptitiously sold to traders, who in turn sell him to French Canadians searching for gold in Alaska.

  • Buck quickly becomes the best sled dog in the entire territory, but his masters overwork him and beat him half to death. He's saved by Thornton, whom he befriends.

  • Thornton and his other dogs are killed by natives. After finding Thornton's body, Buck joins a pack of wolves in the wild, returning once a year to the site of Thornton's death in order to mourn his fallen friend.

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Buck is the undisputed leader of all the dogs on Judge Miller’s estate in California. A crossbreed of St. Bernard and Scottish shepherd, he inherited the size of the first and the intelligence of the latter. Buck cannot know that the lust for gold hit the human beings of the country and that dogs of his breed are much in demand as sled dogs in the frozen North. Consequently, he is not suspicious when a workman on the estate takes him for a walk one night. The man takes Buck to the railroad station, where the dog hears the exchange of money. Then a rope is placed around his neck. When he struggles to get loose, the rope draws so tight that it shuts off his breath, and he loses consciousness.

He recovers in a baggage car. When the train reaches Seattle, Washington, Buck tries to break out of his cage while he is being unloaded. A man in a red shirt hits him with a club until he is senseless. After that, Buck knows that he can never win a fight against a club. He retains that knowledge for future use.

Buck is put in a pen with other dogs of his type. Each day, some of the dogs go away with strange men who come with money. One day, Buck is sold. Two French Canadians buy him and some other dogs and take them on board a ship sailing for Alaska. The men are fair, though harsh, masters, and Buck respects them. Life on the ship is not particularly enjoyable, but it is a paradise compared to what awaits Buck when the ship reaches Alaska. There he finds men and dogs to be little more than savages, with no law but the law of force. The dogs fight like wolves, and when one is downed, the pack moves in for the kill. Buck watches one of his shipmates being torn to pieces after he loses a fight, and he never forgets the way one dog in particular, Spitz, watches sly-eyed as the loser is slashed to ribbons. Spitz is Buck’s enemy from that time on.

Buck and the other dogs are harnessed to sleds on which the two French Canadians carry mail to prospectors in remote regions. It is a new kind of life to Buck but not an unpleasant one. The men treat the dogs well, and Buck is intelligent enough to learn quickly those things that make him a good sled dog. He learns to dig under the snow for a warm place to sleep and to keep the traces clear and thus make pulling easier. When he is hungry, he steals food. The instincts of his ancestors come to life in him as the sled goes farther and farther north. In some vague manner, he senses the great cunning of the wolves who have been his ancestors in the wilderness.

Buck’s muscles grow firm and taut and his strength greater than ever. Yet his feet become sore, and he has to have moccasins. Occasionally, one of the dogs dies or is killed in a fight, and one female goes mad. The dogs no longer work as a team, and the two men are on guard constantly to prevent fights. One day Buck sees his chance; he attacks Spitz, the lead dog on the sled, and kills him. After that, Buck refuses to be harnessed until he is given the lead position. He proves his worth by whipping the rebellious dogs into shape, and he becomes the best lead dog that the men have ever seen. The sled makes record runs, and Buck is soon famous.

When they...

(The entire section is 2,432 words.)